Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Veronica McDonald established the Yellowknife Arctic Sports Club just last year and started coaching its handful of athletes.
But the 25-year-old Dene woman, who has participated in the biennial Arctic Winter Games (AWG) seven times herself, said she’s actually been ‘coaching’ others for a couple of decades now.
“I’ve been competing in these games since I was five years old,” said McDonald, a member of Chipewyan Prairie First Nation in Alberta who lives in Yellowknife. “In these games you are taught to offer encouragement and to help others.”
In part because she launched her own club last year, McDonald has been chosen as the female recipient of the National Indigenous Coaching Award.
The Aboriginal Sport Circle, the national governing body for Indigenous sports in Canada, annually selects female and male recipients.
Winners are celebrated for demonstrating outstanding contributions to Indigenous sport in Canada.
Richard Pellissier-Lush, a football coach from the Lennox Island First Nation in Prince Edward Island, was chosen as the top male coach this year.
Both McDonald and Pellissier-Lush were recognized for their efforts during the Petro-Canada Sport Leadership Award Gala, staged by the Coaching Association of Canada this past week.
“It just means all my hard work I put into my sport and my athletes is being recognized,” McDonald said. “You pass on your knowledge to future generations. To be recognized for that is amazing.”
During her own career McDonald racked up a total of 28 medals at the various Arctic Winter Games she has participated in.
She was also scheduled to compete at the 2020 games in Whitehorse this past March, but that event was cancelled because of the pandemic.
All four of the athletes from the Yellowknife club that McDonald is coaching also qualified to compete.
Besides her numerous medals from previous championships, McDonald continues to hold a pair of Games’ records.
She established an Arctic Winter Games record in the junior women’s (17 and under) kneel jump at the 2012 event held in Whitehorse.
From a kneeling position, competitors are judged on how far they can jump onto their feet while retaining balance.
McDonald set her second record in the women’s open triple jump event at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games staged in Fort Smith, N.W.T.
The triple jump event is similar to the version for track and field competitions but with one major difference. An athlete must launch with both feet (not just one) on all three jumps.
Besides setting an AWG record in 2018 in Fort Smith, the town she grew up in, McDonald was also the final torchbearer for the opening ceremonies of those Games.
Females participate in seven different events in Arctic Sports while males compete in 10 events.
Besides the kneel jump, McDonald said she also considers the Alaskan high jump as one of her favourite Arctic Sports activities.
In this event, a participant, from a sitting position, balances on one leg and then kicks a target above their head with the other leg. The target continues to move higher in ensuing rounds until a winner is declared.
“I really think that’s an amazing event,” said McDonald, who has worked for the Northwest Territories government the past four years as a student case officer providing financial assistance.
McDonald not only plans on continuing to coach Arctic Sports, but also competes herself. The next AWG are scheduled for 2022 in Wood Buffalo, a municipality in northeastern Alberta.
The pandemic not only cancelled this year’s AWG but also put McDonald’s coaching career on hold for a bit.
“Right now I’m trying to promote it as much as I can with the restrictions we have here (in Yellowknife),” she said. “Public gyms just opened to the public this week.”
It could be some time yet though before McDonald is able to have all club members together.
She believes staging one-on-one sessions with her athletes might make more sense at this point.
“There’s just a lot of figuring out logistics,” she said. “There’s regulations that need to be followed and safety waivers must be signed.”
McDonald is also hoping her club will attract many new members, especially younger ones.
“I started when I was five,” she said. “Ideally I’d like to start with others at that age.”
As part of their awards, both McDonald and Pellissier-Lush will receive a $1,500 bursary each to assist them with their coaching development.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.